The disaccharide trehalose, which accumulates dramatically during heat shock and stationary phase in many organisms, enhances thermotolerance and reduces aggregation of denatured proteins. Here we report a new role for trehalose in protecting cells against oxygen radicals. Exposure of Saccharomyces cerevisiae to a mild heat shock (38 degrees C) or to a proteasome inhibitor (MG132) induced trehalose accumulation and markedly increased the viability of the cells upon exposure to a free radical-generating system (H(2)O(2)/iron). When cells were returned to normal growth temperature (28 degrees C) or MG132 was removed from the medium, the trehalose content and resistance to oxygen radicals decreased rapidly. Furthermore, a mutant unable to synthesize trehalose was much more sensitive to killing by oxygen radicals than wild-type cells. Providing trehalose exogenously enhanced the resistance of mutant cells to H(2)O(2). Exposure of cells to H(2)O(2) caused oxidative damage to amino acids in cellular proteins, and trehalose accumulation was found to reduce such damage. After even brief exposure to H(2)O(2), the trehalose-deficient mutant exhibited a much higher content of oxidatively damaged proteins than wild-type cells. Trehalose accumulation decreased the initial appearance of damaged proteins, presumably by acting as a free radical scavenger. Therefore, trehalose accumulation in stressed cells plays a major role in protecting cellular constituents from oxidative damage.
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